A Tribute to Robert Tai (1953-2017)

roberttai
Robert Tai in the 1998 film Trinity Goes East

The martial arts genre has lost a legend action designer.

Robert Tai, the Taiwanese martial artist who is known for his stylish action designs and working with the likes of action heroes such as The Venoms, Alexander Lo and John Liu, lost his battle with cancer last week at the age of 64.

Tai Chi-Hsien was born in 1953 to a military chief and his wife in Taiwan. Tai got his start when his parents sent him to the Fu Shing Opera School in Taipei. Some of his classmates included veteran kung fu divas Angela Mao and Judy Lee. Others included Peng Kang (one of the original Jackie Chan Stunt Team members), Chiang Sheng (The Venoms), Lee Yi-Min, and James Tien, all of whom have had successful careers in kung fu films.

Upon leaving the school, Tai know that he was meant to choreograph martial arts action. Admittedly, he did it for the money at first, working on films like New Fist of Fury with Jackie Chan. However, it was when Tai went to Shaw Brothers and began to work with the iconic Chang Cheh that he realized his true potential.

Tai would learn the rigors of filmmaking under Chang and worked as an assistant action director on Chinatown Kid, learning how to place the camera and grab the right shots. In an interview with longtime friend, filmmaker Toby Russell, Tai said The Brave Archer would be Tai’s first as sole action choreographer.

However, Tai would reach a pinnacle when he assisted friends Lu Feng and Leung Ting to choreograph the hit 1978 film The Five Venoms, which cast Taiwanese stars Lu, Chiang Sheng, Philip Kwok, and Sun Chien, along with Hong Kong-born Lo Meng. Tai would continue to work with the Venoms until he broke out of his own in the early 80’s and returned to his native Taiwan to continue making films.

While in Taiwan, Robert formed a friendship with taekwondo champion Alexander Lo Rei and the two began a fruitful collaboration. Tai made his directorial debut in 1980 with Devil Killer, which he also choreographed and played a bit part. His 1981 film Northern Kicks, Southern Fists, featured Tai as not only director and choreographer, but he also played the main villain of the piece.

Tai would continue to work with Lo on films like Shaolin vs. Ninja in 1983, Mafia vs. Ninja in 1984, and what is hailed as a dream project of sorts, the nine-hour epic Ninja: The Final Duel in 1986. Tai would also be responsible for debuting Robin Shou in 1989’s Death Cage with the late Joe Lewis, 1996’s Fists of Legend 2: Iron Bodyguards, and his final film as director, 1998’s Trinity Goes East.

Robert would make his final film appearances in front of the cameras as “Master Tai” in two films, Night Driver and Death List, with martial artist/filmmaker Ara Paiaya.

World Film Geek sends its condolences to the family of Robert Tai Chi-Hsien. As a final tribute, check out Robert as an abbot in Ninja: The Final Duel, where he showcases his action talents.

Rest in Peace, Robert Tai

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